Meredith Brook named 2021 Innovative Teacher of the Year
On a Monday morning inside the Ashland Ranch Elementary gymnasium, students are lined up with signs congratulating their teacher. The celebration is a surprise for Meredith Brook, who is being recognized with an award for her innovative teaching. Not only are her students there to honor her, but so are her colleagues and her mother via FaceTime call.
“They all made me cry,” she said.
The physical education teacher commonly known as Coach Brook is receiving the 2021 Innovative Teacher of the Year award from Arizona Health & Physical Education. Brook says the honor was a complete surprise.
"It was a really special moment. It kind of makes you take several steps back and think about all the other people who couldn't get recognized,” she said.
Brook has been working at Ashland Ranch for 11 years, and seven of those years have been with Principal Suzanne Carlson.
“We’re so lucky to have so many great teachers here, but Meredith definitely stands out,” Carlson said, “She’s warm and welcoming. She always has a smile on her face, and she embraces everyone.”
Brook takes the time to get to know all of her students. She finds ways to make sure everyone feels included. Carlson says it is Brook’s leadership and the culture that she creates that really connects with students.
“The atmosphere of belonging and having fun comes first, and then they learn a new skill,” Carlson said.
Education has played a huge role in Brook’s family. Her mother was a physical education teacher. An aunt, uncle, and her in-laws all taught at the high school level. However, Brook says one of the biggest influences on her decision to teach was her own elementary school P.E. teacher, Mr. Jackson. In her younger school years, Brook struggled with reading and feeling like she didn’t belong in certain classes. Mr. Jackson encouraged her to keep going and stop comparing herself to other people.
“Yeah, just a great influence. A person that loves others, loves cooperation and teamwork,” Brook said.
When asked about her teaching style, Brook says she takes the best of what she sees around her. She focuses on hooking students with a fun activity and then the rest is easy.
“I feel like I just try to not get in the way of the fact that movement and physical activity are just so great on their own,” she said.
Brook also supports after-school activities by coaching basketball, organizing the running club, and other fun activities involving parents. Her next goal is to help expand physical activity into classrooms.
"I think on a personal level I want to continue to educate classroom teachers on ways they can bring movement safely into their classrooms to keep kids engaged throughout the day," she said.
While Brook is grateful to be honored by her peers across the state, she is focused on finding ways to pay it forward.
“It's a nice little nod that you kind of get this feeling that you are doing things right and to keep going. Not only that, but now you think about how you can help others to keep going too," she said.